Attention Gen Y

Editor's note: The following has been circulating around the web for a while - someone sent it to me today. I am not certain of the original source. While I am obviously a strong supporter of new ways to communicate and the need for today's leaders to better understand the generation that is working its way up the ladder, the dialog needs to be reciprocal. For all of you Gen Y folks demanding to be let into NASA programs and leadership: today's world did not just pop into existence. Someone had to create it - and the things that led up to it. And the people who did these things got the opportunity to do so based on their ability - not their age. We old folks are not going to just fade away either - and we're multitasking and adopting all of your nifty cyber tools faster than you might think:

A stunning senior moment

A self-important college freshman attending a recent football game took it upon himself to explain to a senior citizen sitting next to him why it was impossible for the older generation to understand his generation.

'You grew up in a different world, actually an almost primitive one', the student said, loud enough for many of those nearby to hear. 'The young people of today grew up with television, jet planes, space travel, man walking on the moon. Our space probes have visited Mars. We have nuclear energy, ships and electric and hydrogen cars, cell phones , computers with light-speed processing ... and more.'

After a brief silence, the senior citizen responded as follows:

'You're right, son. We didn't have those things when we were young ... so we invented them. Now, you arrogant little s**t, what are you doing for the next generation?'

The applause was amazing ...

Comments? Send them to nasawatch@spaceref.com. Your comments thus far:


Uhhhh... I got about a third of the way thru that "Generation Y Perspective" thing and had to pull out before I barfed.

Yes, NASA doesn't "communicate" well with a lot of American sub-groups. Yes, it fails to build enthusiasm for the neat stuff it does. Yes, it presents a cold, bleak, sterile view of the future. And so on, and so on, aand so on.

And it's ****ing supposed to!

The US government has been dominated for 40 years now by people who DO NOT LIKE large open-ended programs funded by government money. And by people who do not want to get into useless shouting matches with foreign governments about far far distant exploitive Yankee schemes for raping the riches of the solar system. And by people who can't forget that at the very height of the Apollo Program, American cities were being burnt down by people who did not like space programs. And by people who cannot see that the technological and economic limits of 2008 aren't going to apply to the strange and alien world of 2080, or even 2018.

We've got a space program. 50 years ago, it sent human beings to the moon. It'd be embarassing to kill it, but the people who run our government don't really want it to thrive, don't want to mount public enthusiasm in its support, don't want to draw up future budgets with hundreds of billions of dollars earmarked for lunar factories and Martian re-oxygenation schemes. They want something nice and small and limited, which does some good and doesn't cause embarrassment, and maybe even seems a bit idealistic.

Like the Coast Guard, let's say. It's there, year in and year out, for several centuries now. It does useful work. It hasn't conquered the world on its limited budget, but it does useful work. Does it "communicate" with Gen Y. I don't think so. Does anyone really give a *****, or want to wipe out the Coast Guard because of this egregious failure? I don't think so.

Why can't NASA be more like the Coast Guard? The dirty little secret is, NASA is just the Coast Guard.


Real or not, that story sounds like it was lifted from one of Ronald Reagan's experiences as Governor of California. You can check it out at http://www.ronaldreagan.com/firstterm.html about 3/4 of the way down the page:

"Then their spokesman began: 'Governor, we want to talk to you, but I think you should realize that it's impossible for you to understand us - It's sad, but it's impossible for the members of your generation to understand your own children. You weren't raised in a time of instant communications or satellites and computers solving problems in seconds that previously took hours or days or even weeks to solve. You didn't live in an age of space travel and journeys to the moon, of jet travel or high speed electronics.' While he paused to take a breath, I said: 'You're absolutely right. We didn't have those things when we were your age. We invented them.'"


Brilliant response from the "senior citizen".

I attended the AIAA Space Exploration Conference in Denver a few weeks ago and found myself quite annoyed by the "Gen Y session". I thought it was self-indulgent, short-sighted, arrogant and brash. Personally, I don't see why this generation is any different than any other earlier generation when they first started entering the work force and had to adapt to the working environment.

I'm considered a Gen X'er but would be on the cusp of Gen Y per the presentation made at the Exploration Conference. I saw nothing new in any of the material that I could not apply to myself and others my age, even their suggestions. In fact, I submitted something very similar about using the internet and digital communication more effectively several weeks before to my company.

Later that evening, I had a dinner conversation with a colleague of mine who is a somewhat older. He thought it was a very good presentation and was surprised about how Gen Y thinks and goes about things. When I explained how I and others in my age range are very similar he was equally as surprised. The difference was I adapted to the work environment but am still able to retain all those characteristics. I did not see, or have ever seen the point, in holding a conference to say everyone who came before me must adapt to my ways. I guess that's what you get when you're a bit wet behind the ears.

As for younger people not being interested in NASA or space exploration, I think they have a point. Not because of any of the reasons they mentioned but because they grew up with the Space Shuttle, as I did. They never saw a person walk on the moon or go beyond LEO, as I never did. It doesn't mean that it's still not difficult to do or even cool. It's just old hat and that rarely captures anyone's imagination regardless of age.


If generation Y is so distrustful of corporations & government, why do they always paste Google & Starbucks logos all over their NASA slide shows & vote for more government programs? Having said that, we are in a phase where a very small generation X is being followed by a generation Y which is larger than the first baby boom. If you're in generation X your boss is probably from generation Y simply because of numbers.



We've all heard it before. "Gen Y'ers are an army of self-absorbed narcissists with a swollen sense of entitlement. They've been pampered since birth. They have over-sized egos. They're self-indulgent."

Sound familiar? As a Baby Boomer, I heard a lot of the same things when I was their age. We created our own culture out of drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll. In the '60s and '70s it was universal wisdom that we suffered from too much coddling. Counselors criticized parents for trying to satisfy their children's' "every desire." Vice President Spiro Agnew once said we were "spoiled brats who never had a good spanking."

There are lessons here for the 76 million Gen Y'ers, the 80 million Baby Boomers and the 50 million Gen X'ers.

Gen X and Boomers - The Gen Y'ers are not all whining, over-privileged, tech-obsessed brats who don't want to work hard, but still want the benefits. Take a look in the mirror, or at least inside that '77 high school yearbook.

Gen Y -- Stop acting like we don't understand you. We were you. As for the Gen Y group peddling the presentation on how to best engage them - give it a rest. We get it. You're cool. We're not. But you'll be surprised by how much smarter WE'LL get as YOU get older. You have Stephen Colbert. We had David Letterman. Oh, and in case you don't believe me, you should take a look inside that same '77 yearbook. Better yet, find one from '69.


Keith,

There's so much to be said on this topic it isn't funny. I've started writing a blog about this kind of thing. FWIW, I'm 62 but sometimes hang out with people much younger than myself. It comes from being athletic and being a bit of artist.

Anyway, here are a few items from my blog that you may find interesting:

* Aerospace Workforce Issues

* A Few Observations

My blog is titled Independent Broad Minded Centrist.

Personally I think there is lots to criticize all around. People need to do more listening. There's too much failure in our society -- especially on the part of people like Dan Goldin who manage to escape from any personal consequences. I'm still appalled that he got paid 1.8 million to go away from Boston University -- when saner, better people than him struggle to make ends meet.


Great story Keith!

Although it does sound a little like one of those sentimental email stories that is attributed to everyone from Genghis Khan to Ted Nugent, that is a great come-back that I am definitely going to use myself! :-)

In light of the living-world's loss of Sir Arthur Clarke this week, who indeed (from this new generation of expected entitlement), is going to invent the next great achievement in space-tech, merely by writing a story for a SciFi periodical, decades before the technology needed to do it is even created?! Not that each generation of youth doesn't have the spark of "imagineering" in their hearts, but if necessity is the mother of invention, kids whose needs are met in an instant might not be as creative as those who have gone before them and had to strive to achieve. Let's hope that the great kids of today who work hard will outshine the others.

Enjoying your website and stories as always,


Brilliant response from the "senior citizen".

I attended the AIAA Space Exploration Conference in Denver a few weeks ago and found myself quite annoyed by the "Gen Y session". I thought it was self-indulgent, short-sighted, arrogant and brash. Personally, I don't see why this generation is any different than any other earlier generation when they first started entering the work force and had to adapt to the working environment.

I'm considered a Gen X'er but would be on the cusp of Gen Y per the presentation made at the Exploration Conference. I saw nothing new in any of the material that I could not apply to myself and others my age, even their suggestions. In fact, I submitted something very similar about using the internet and digital communication more effectively several weeks before to my company.

Later that evening, I had a dinner conversation with a colleague of mine who is a somewhat older. He thought it was a very good presentation and was surprised about how Gen Y thinks and goes about things. When I explained how I and others in my age range are very similar he was equally as surprised. The difference was I adapted to the work environment but am still able to retain all those characteristics. I did not see, or have ever seen the point, in holding a conference to say everyone who came before me must adapt to my ways. I guess that's what you get when you're a bit wet behind the ears.

As for younger people not being interested in NASA or space exploration, I think they have a point. Not because of any of the reasons they mentioned but because they grew up with the Space Shuttle, as I did. They never saw a person walk on the moon or go beyond LEO, as I never did. It doesn't mean that it's still not difficult to do or even cool. It's just old hat and that rarely captures anyone's imagination regardless of age.


If generation Y is so distrustful of corporations & government, why do they always paste Google & Starbucks logos all over their NASA slide shows & vote for more government programs? Having said that, we are in a phase where a very small generation X is being followed by a generation Y which is larger than the first baby boom. If you're in generation X your boss is probably from generation Y simply because of numbers.


The purported dialogue has the feel of something that's been embellished or fabricated, but the sentiment (if not the conversation itself) is something that's probably been expressed quite often. Given the threat of an impending shortage of engineers and scientists and retirement of older engineers and scientists, a more formal effort at passing along knowledge (technical knowledge, ethics, approaches at problem solving, etc.) probably would be a very good idea. The communication really needs to go both ways.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 20, 2008 10:53 AM.

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